Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Passionately Seeking Happiness and Accidentally Finding it

Back in 2006 I came across a fascinating blog: the author was an atheist who was in the midst of exploring theism, then Christianity, then Catholicism, before joining the Church (with her husband) in 2007. Throughout the process, Jennifer Fulwiler used her blog as a combination journal/forum, setting forth the questions she had and inviting responses.

Last month, her memoirs were published under the title Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It. Shortly after the book was published my friend Renee read the book and then wrote a review, which I'm posting below. Take a gander and consider picking up a copy of the book yourself.

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It

Very simply, “Something Other Than God” by Jennifer Fulwiler is a conversion story.  However, what makes this book special is the journey that takes Jennifer from being a religion hating atheist to a devout Catholic.  Jennifer was raised in an atheist home, had achieved monetary and career success at a young age and yet, a part of her always wondered “is this it?”  Through a series of major life events, Jennifer began to realize that she doesn’t have an answer for the big questions in life, questions such as “what is the purpose of this life”, “what happens to us when we die”, “is there an ever loving, all good Deity.”   Her quest for answers - and the truth -  led her to create a blog on the internet where she found people who were willing to answer her questions in a logical, non-confrontational manner.  She later discovered that those individuals that were providing the best answers and could provide documentation to prove their point of view were….. Catholic.

What struck me most about Jennifer’s story is that her mother was raised Catholic.  Her Catholic grandparents, whom she never knew, had insisted that Jennifer be baptised Catholic when she was six months old.  If there was ever a doubt in my mind of the real power contained in the Sacrament of Baptism, Jennifer’s story confirmed for me in a very real way that this beautiful sacrament provides assistance to us in ways we cannot imagine, that we are sealed with the sign of belonging to Christ, an indelible mark on our soul that not even a life of unrepentant sin can wipe away.  Through the Sacraments we receive, there are powerful, unseen forces at work in our lives every single day.

Jennifer’s conversion didn’t take place over night, and her journey was filled with difficulty and uncertainty.  She fought the process the entire way, desperately trying not to believe.  She discovered that God is loving and patient and is waiting to give us peace when we finally find our way home.

Jennifer has written a book that clearly and concisely presents the arguments against Christianity and the Catholic faith, and then beautifully and thoughtfully explains why the answers and the Truth can be found within the Church.  

If you are looking for a book to help you find answers on your journey of faith, but do not want to slug through books on theology, this is a must read.  If you are looking for an uplifting book to hang out with over the summer while sitting on a beach or under a tree, this is a must read.  Wherever you are on your faith journey… this is a must read.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Alternative Approach

Perhaps instead of complaining about Church leadership we might emulate the early disciples and gather around our leaders so that they receive the strength to boldly proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

More below.

Throughout the Easter season the first reading at daily Mass is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, and I’ve really been struck by a variety of things, one of which I want to mention here…

In the reading from Tuesday of this week (the fifth week of Easter) from Acts 14 we read of some of the experiences which Paul had... here's the part that drew me:

"They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered around him, he got up and entered the city."

Paul -- an Apostle -- was left for dead, but when the disciples gathered around him, he arose and went back into the city.

It occurred to me that we might do the same as those early disciples did: gather spiritually around our "apostles" -- particularly our bishops, as well as the priests and deacons of our dioceses -- so that they have the strength to rise again and proclaim the Gospel anew.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

You Keep Using That Word… I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Evangelization and catechesis… for those who have a passion for proclaiming the Catholic faith, these are commonly used words, which makes it all the more surprising that they are commonly misused, or more precisely, “mis-related”.

Let me explain.

If you analyze how most Catholics -- from the average Joe and Jane in the pew to popular theologians to well-formed priests -- use evangelization and catechesis, you’ll find that by “evangelization” they mean the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and by “catechesis” they mean a systematic education in the faith.

At this point, things are okay, or at least seem to be okay. The problem comes, though, when the same people compare or relate evangelization and catechesis: typically, you’ll hear that evangelization comes first, and then catechesis. Sometimes you’ll hear that such-and-such Catholic has been “catechized, but not evangelized.”


This is where the problems arise. Implicit in such statements is an understanding of these two concepts in which they relate to one another as “siblings,” as related but distinct activities.

The problem is that that this is not how the Church formally uses and relates these concepts. This is seen in a number of Magisterial documents, but most simply and clearly in Pope St. John Paul the Great’s document on catechesis, Catechesi Tradendae, wherein he states that catechesis is one moment (or stage) in the entire process of evangelization (the actual quote is, “Catechesis is one of these moments - a very remarkable one - in the whole process of evangelization” [article 18]).

Again: catechesis is one stage in the process of evangelization. This means that the relationship between evangelization and catechesis is not one of siblings -- related but distinct -- but one of parent-child -- one is inclusive of the other. In this case, evangelization is the “parent term,” of which catechesis is the “child”, or subset.

This is an important point for a variety of reasons, one of which I’d like to highlight here: this means that catechesis, as the Church understands and explains it, is evangelical in nature. Catechesis is not distinct from evangelization… it is part of the process of evangelization.

Today we seem to be in danger of reducing catechesis merely to instruction, to a (solely) intellectual activity, to learning the “facts” of our Catholic Faith. As the quote from St. John Paul indicates, this is manifestly not the case: catechesis is, as some aptly put it, teaching (yes) to conversion to Jesus Christ. It isn’t just about learning the Creed, the Commandments, the Sacraments and the prayers so that we (just) know certain truths… it is about learning these truths so that we might grow closer to the Truth, the Way and the Life: Jesus Christ. So, if you’re actually doing catechesis as its intended by the Church to be done, you are evangelizing.

That is not to say that catechesis is synonymous with evangelization, however; again, it is one stage in the process of evangelization, and not the first stage at that. Rather, it follows the stage of primary proclamation, in which the Good News is proclaimed and an initial conversion to Christ is sought after.

Instead of “evangelization followed by catechesis,” then, the Magisterium says, “primary proclamation followed by catechesis, all of which is evangelization.” And at the heart of it all? The encounter and relationship with the God-Man, our Lord and Savior, the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Finding Meaning & Purpose in Everything

While many of us struggle today to find meaning in life, Christianity proposes that everything we do can have real significance for ourselves and others, in this life and in eternity. How? Through what is called the universal or royal priesthood of all the baptized.

Let me explain.

At every Catholic Mass today, those present heard a reading of the first letter of St. Peter, in which he writes the following: “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

While most people think of priests as the guys in white collars, the Catholic Church -- like many other Christian traditions -- also teaches that every baptized person is a priest, as well as a prophet and a king (or queen). Why? Because by our baptism we are joined to Jesus Christ, who is the priest, prophet and king, and we share in His status as such.

“That’s all well and good, Chris,” you might be thinking, “but what does that have to do with finding meaning in my life?”

This is what is has to do with meaning: because we as baptized are priests in Jesus Christ, we are able to offer everything we do -- literally, everything (apart from our sins, of course) -- to the Father as a spiritual offering, a spiritual sacrifice, and in doing so, we join our offering to Jesus’ ultimate offering on the Cross. In this offering-with-Jesus’-offering, my seemingly little and insignificant gift is invested and imbued with incredible -- even eternal -- significance: because it is joined to Jesus’ offering by which He saved all of us and indeed all of creation, so too does my offering -- by its participation in Jesus’ offering -- become salvific or saving.

In decades past this teaching was summarized in the simple saying, “offer it up,” which was usually applied to suffering, whether little annoyances or great physical or emotional pain. But the same saying can be applied to any and every act we make, and in so doing, we fill that act with great meaning and purpose.

Here’s how the Catholic Church formally teaches this reality, in paragraph 901 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit - indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born - all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Our daily work, the joys and struggles of family and married life, even the things I do to relax my mind and body… all of these things can be offered to the Father through Jesus, and in so doing become salvific, redemptive… saving.

I continue to be struck by this reality, and I continue to strive to live it out in my daily life, and in so doing, to give everything I do meaning & purpose.

What about you? Is this a new insight, or something you’ve been aware of? If the latter, how have you been able to live this out in your own life?

Saturday, May 17, 2014


One of the "dangers" inherent in awaking a long-dormant blog is the blogroll... yes, I know that most of the sites and links over to the right are long dead... I'll get to them as I can.

In the meantime... may the clicker beware.  :-)

Materialism and Concern about the Future of Our Species

If, as Carl Sagan said, the cosmos (matter) is all that is or was or will be, then concern about the future of our species -- and hence concern about climate change and zombie apocalypses alike -- doesn't make any sense.

Let me explain.

My favorite contemporary director is Christopher Nolan; way before his Batman trilogy saw the light of day, I'd been enthralled by Memento. Later, I was similarly taken by The Prestige and Inception. This year, I'm looking forward to Interstellar, due out this November, and just the other day we were treated to the first (non-teaser) trailer, in which we get a glimpse of what this movie is about: "As Michael Caine tells hero Matthew McConaughy in the new trailer, mankind 'isn’t meant to save the world' in the wake of what appears to be a natural disaster that has meant an end to food production on Earth, but instead leave the planet in search of new beginnings" (HR).

As I was reading various responses to and interpretations of the trailer, I came across this post, in which the writer comments on the apparent natural disaster that originates the plot of the movie:

I completely buy the trailer's vision of a future weather and resource global crisisThe global data is unquestionable. Man-made or not, I don't care, the fact is that climate change ishappening. It's drastic and it's accelerating, and we may not be able to stop it at this point.
Computer simulations show that we are headed to a place where humanity hasn't been before. The projections are so bad that the military have deemed it a national security threat already. And trust me, the men and women of the Pentagon are not tree-hugging hippies.
As climate changes, everything changes. We are already seeing the effects on agriculture, with ruined crops and food scarcity in many parts of the world. Or better said, we are not seeing it—people who live in third world countries are. Our oceans' fisheries are also dwindling quickly, with many species on the verge of exhaustion.
Combine this with the millions of poor people getting out of poverty conditions in China, India, South America and Africa. They are consuming more and more of resources that are already scarce. More food. More energy. More oil. More everything. Even if the population doesn't go up, the demand will keep increasing at a fast rate. It's not going to stop.
Still, I'm an optimistic person who thinks that science may save us at the last minute. Perhaps that's Nolan's thesis—or perhaps it's the contrary. We don't really know yet. But I have no doubt that we are headed into this direction.

As this citation as well as the rest of the post make clear, the author believes strongly that there will be very dangerous consequences for humanity as climate change continues to unfold. As I thought about this passage and similar views held by others, I was struck by the incongruence between the materialists' belief that matter is all there ever was, is and will be and their simultaneously-held deep concern for the future of the human race. After all, we're all going to die at some point... if this life is all there is, why does it matter if we all die at (about) the same time in some extinction level event? If materialism is true, there is no logical reason for me to be concerned about the fate of the human race. For that matter, if materialism is true, there is no logical reason for me to be "concerned" about my fate: that I will someday die is a cold, hard fact, and it's irrational to struggle against it. (A separate yet even more important point is this: concern about my own fate or that of any other person or group of persons is -- given the materialist view of reality -- irrational because the human being is nothing more than a particular grouping of atoms... why favor this type of grouping over any other? Simply put, the concept of human dignity is meaningless in the materialist conception of reality.)

Let me be clear: I am not arguing that we ought not be concerned about climate change and its consequences, nor am I arguing that we ought not be concerned about the fate of the human race. My point is simple: if materialism is true, there is no rational basis for concern about the future of our species, and hence for concern about climate change.

What do you think? Does my argument fail, and if so, where?


Wow. Six posts in the last six years. Let's see what we can do about that...